The Future Cardinal and the Future Rabbi
( Excerpted from my book, Courage of the Spirit)
Prologue: It is getting close to 100 years since my father worked on his doctoral thesis on the pending collapse of democracy in Europe. His warnings about the distance between the citizen, the parties and delegates represent him or her, and the Kafkaesque bureaucracy behind the state still speak to us today.
Doctorate Diploma of Wilhelm Weinberg
1928, a future Cardinal put his signature on the doctorate of a future Chief
Rabbi, and within a decade, the world would be in flames.
the idea of that was inconceivable, however, and the world was still full of
promise in the optimism of the 1920s, my father, known as Willi, and his brother Munio finished
gymnasia and went on to higher learning at the University of Vienna.
My father, William Weinberg, as a young student
My father recognized that he needed to build an intellectual and professional platform
for himself, and because of his active involvement in Zionist politics, he
enrolled in the Faculty of Law at the University of Vienna, where he did his
studies in Staatswissenschaft—Political Science. His thesis supervisor was
Professor Ernest Schwind, who had served as rector of the university a few
years prior and had published the Lex
Baiwariorum (The Law Codes of the Medieval Bavarians) and Ausgewählte Urkunden zur
Verfassungs-Geschichte der Deutsch-Österreichischen Erblande im Mittelalter
(Selected Documents of the Constitutional History of German-Austrian Hereditary
Lands in the Middle Ages).
his supervisor’s field may have seemed arcane, it provided my father a good
grounding in the evolution of the political systems in Europe from antiquity to
his time, and this study became the core of his dissertation.
also had to check his personal politics at the door of the university. There
was a Jewish adage of the previous generation, which posited, in the words of
Y. L. Gordon, “Be a Jew at home and a man on the street.” This certainly was
true of academic research. Among the faculty were two opposing schools of
thought: fascist/nationalist and Marxist/socialist. To the fascist/nationalist
professor, one skewed one’s answers to that way of thinking. To the
Marxist/socialist professor, one tilted the answer thusly. There was no room in
between for discussions of Zionist Labor, Cultural Zionism, Revisionism, or any
of the myriad other Zionist political theories popular at that time. Thus, my
father turned his focus to the larger scheme of things—the question of how the
European states had governed themselves from the middle ages to the present.
in mind that when my father first typed his thesis, Hitler had just recently
come out of Landsberg prison and had not had a single electoral victory. His
Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei had barely scored a few seats in
the Reichstag. Nazism was at this point so insignificant that my father did not
mention it in his thesis. It was the Goldene Zwanziger (Golden Twenties) in the
Weimar Republic and the Roaring Twenties in the United States, and the world
economy was solid. For the most part, Woodrow Wilson had succeeded in his goal:
“The world must be made safe for democracy.”
in Italy, a fascist state under Mussolini, and in Russia, a Bolshevik state under
Lenin, were the nascent democracies of post-World War I Europe overthrown.
Democracy was safe—or so it seemed to everyone—but not to the highly observant student
of political science, William Weinberg, who was just twenty-five and very
astute when he typed his thesis in
1926, which he titled “Parliamentarism: System and Crisis.”
his thesis, he traces the origins of parliamentary democracy from the ancient
Germans, Greeks, and Romans to the post-War period. He is full of belief in the
value of democracy, yet he describes the theoretical and actual flaws in the
system that existed in his day. He discerns the threats to democracy and
proposes solutions to the crisis, without which civilization as the modern
world knew it would collapse.
finished his studies and successfully defended his thesis, and on November 14,
1928, he received his signed doctorate. The date was significant: it was ten
years, almost to the date, of the armistice on November 11, 1918, that ended
the Great War to “make the world safe for democracy.” Ten years later, almost
to the date, the opening act of the genocide of the Jews, Kristallnacht, Night
of the Broken Glass, would occur on November 9, 1938.
years after defending his thesis as an optimistic graduate student, my father,
William Weinberg, as a newly ordained rabbi, would be fleeing for his life from
Austria, and would end up halfway across Asia before he found safe haven.
doctorate was signed by the rector of the university; that year it was the turn
of a Catholic scholar of the Bible, Theodore Innitzer. He would become
Archbishop of Vienna, and then Cardinal.
Cardinal Theodore Innitzer
other Catholic leaders of his day, he actually served as a cabinet minister.
Ten years later, as Cardinal Theodore Innitzer, he would sign a declaration to
welcome the Anschluss, the swallowing up of Austria by the Third Reich, and
would add to his signature the words Heil
Hitler. The cardinal lived to regret it.
had fallen, just as the young Weinberg had warned.
System and Crisis
The full text of this thesis is viewable on the
website of the Center for Jewish History, posted by the Leo Baeck Institute.
introduces his paper with the pronouncement of how the parliamentary democratic
system is deeply embedded in Europe.
Wilhelm Von Blume, he states that the various forms of expression of the will
of the people in this “parliamentary idea” evolved out of a principal concept:
the people of a nation choose to have a marked influence on the manner and the
norms by which they will be ruled. This is carried out in the leadership of the
state through the representatives. “This concept is as old as European
Civilization and will express itself as long as the civilization exists,” was
Von Blume’s contention.
representative councils were described in antiquity, not only in Greece, but in
Rome and Germany as well. He continues in his thesis to describe the history of
the parliamentary system in medieval England, France, and other European
states, down to the forms it took in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Unitary and dualist systems, multi-party and two-party systems—the workings of
parliamentary democracy are all laid out. Ultimately, even the monarchies, once
controlled by parliaments, are but a sham, and the parliamentary state is de facto a republic (res publica—the public domain).
the thesis comes to its crux: if parliamentary democracy is the chosen form of
government, what has happened to it? This is covered in the second half of the
thesis in the section titled “Crisis and Downfall of Parliamentarism”:
Among the many
difficult and serious problems that have come to the fore in recent years in
the public life of Europe, none is as pressing and serious as that of the
crisis of parliamentarism. In the past 200 years, the parliamentary system has
become the standard form of political life in the civilized world. All the
great political struggles of modern times have as their goals the shaping of parliament.
The Parliamentary system attacked and broke monarchy; it is identical with the
victory of Democracy—Freedom, the rule of the people in all lands.
We are so proud of
the result of the creation of our modern culture, and we have become so accustomed
to see in the parliamentary system the last word in political culture that we
have hardly recognized that it has begun to degenerate, that it is losing its
original purpose, till we have come to this time when the parliamentary system
has become the topic of debate, in which its flaws are widely known, and the
whole world is speaking of a crisis of the parliamentary system.
The signs of this
crisis can be found in all European states, not only Italy and Russia, where
new political systems instead of parliamentarism are being created. We have in
mind those countries with strong parliamentary constitutions—France, England,
Germany, and the smaller states. Overall, we find an inability of the
parliamentary system to guarantee a proper and stable leadership and create a
good and lasting government and provide a beneficial and orderly
manner of all parliaments, at the outbreak of the War, during the War, and at
its conclusions, as well as its powerlessness in the follow-up to the so-called
peace agreements, have created a serious breach in sight of all the world. As a
result, there has been an all-around failure of belief in the system. The
masses see how the parties tear and throw at each other, as the members of
parliament speak and speak without end and achieve nothing concrete. They have
become disillusioned and mistrusting, and seek other forms of political
leadership, so that the idea of a dictator is today popular in many European
states. Parliamentary rule is evermore unpopular; its existence is in danger.
Many political thinkers, historians, and philosophers of history see its
What are the
causes of the crisis?
The origins of
this decline go to the origins of the parliamentary system.
system has two key foundations. The first foundation is the principle of
democracy: the people alone determine their own fate. The second foundation is
the principle of representation. Since it is impossible for each citizen to be
directly and constantly involved with all political questions, he chooses a
representative who is appointed and makes decisions in his name.
therefore a representative democracy. It is in this very principle of
representation from its beginning that there is a danger. The classic
philosophers of history and political science of modern Europe, Montesquieu and
Rousseau, in their time already foresaw this danger and recognized the contradiction
between the democratic and representative principles.
The will of the
people cannot truly be expressed only through their elected representatives,
they pointed out. The representative must, willingly or not, twist and falsify
the will of the people. The true democracy, declared Rousseau, is possible
therefore only in the small states, more likely city-states, as it was in the
Greek republics, and in parts of Switzerland, where the number of citizens is
so small that they can all control and affect their political affairs.
of the theoreticians of modern democracy have shown: the more that the
parliamentary system has developed, and the greater the State has become, so
more rich and complicated has the political life become; more and more, the
parliament becomes independent, absolute, and unaccountable to the people, a
world to itself.
become a science with its unique discipline, methods, and secrets. Today, it is
so complicated and twisted that the common man with average reasoning ability
cannot find his way in it. All questions and problems in the political world
become part of a completely new system, and its solution no longer depends on
the real necessities, but rather on the laws and tendencies of the immediate
The politician has
become a new entity. He is no longer the representative of his thousands of
fellow citizens; no longer the fighter and the spokesperson for the others.
He is rather a man
for whom politics is his calling, who has become an expert in the wisdom and
secrets of the hidden science of politics.
It must also be
added that the legal framework today is no longer managed by the parliament;
instead, it has become completely a matter of the state bureaucracy. This
happens, naturally, when one thinks of what degree of knowledge and expertise
that today is necessary to shape a law.
politician loses the common interest of his constituents, and less and less
does politics arise from the realistic needs and wants of the people. Its key
issues of contention have nothing to do with real life, and it becomes purely
tactical politics for its own sake.
The parliament has
ceased to be a suitable apparatus for dealing with the public good, resting on
the most possible broad foundation; it stands upon artful electioneering
mathematics. These delegates no longer represent the people against the state
authority and its bureaucracy to adopt policies necessary for civil life; they
fail to act as a vent for individual initiative and freedom of the soul. The
delegates’ legislative effectiveness is identified with the will of the state
and its political activity and his attachment to the influence of the party
organization; he restricts himself to the influence of the party leader.
It is no wonder
that the people are disappointed and indifferent to parliament, to the
parliamentary politics, which then loses their loyalty.
different countries people are looking for a new political form to inherit the
role of the parliamentary system. In Europe, there are now two such systems:
Fascism in Italy and Sovietism in Russia.
Fascism is not
new. The name is new, but the system is old: dictatorship. What the advocates
of “just dictatorship” intend is the application of extraparliamentary means to
achieve political demands. It is understandable that those who have a far and
wide view and can move above the needs of separate groups can, seeing the
hardship of the totality, see this machine that makes much racket and much of
little good, and therefore they are dissatisfied. They think of the dictator
[as someone] who can lead the people by stark will over all difficulties.
and dictatorship are contradictions. That which is negotiated in the parliament
is commanded in the dictatorship.
Fascism arose from
disappointment in the democratic principle. Mussolini screams that democracy is
dead and has outlived itself. He creates what all degenerate democracies have led
to—a return to dictatorship. This is not new; the idea of the dictator is as
old as history.
There is another
authoritarian system, the Catholic Church, which served as a paradigm for
political rule. The pope is the highest authority, and he delegates power down
to the cardinals, bishops, and priests, to the people, rather than in reverse.
The key and crucial difference is that the pope is himself a representative of
God, and as a result, is bound to a higher principle, which is beyond the pope.
The secular dictator, without a God-concept, a key fundamental principle other
than his own self, is but an episode, which must collapse at the demise of the
dictator. Italian fascism therefore cannot outlast Mussolini.
challenge to democracy is the Soviet system. This system provides the great
concept that is missing in fascism. The Soviet state is established upon a new
foundation: the economic basis of means of production derived from the Marxist
concept that economy is the central force of history. The Soviet system
organizes life so that the individual can find his purpose fulfilled to the
highest in the productivity of the factory under the control of the workers.
Production becomes the source of new breath for the organization of the State.
itself, which has nothing to do with the dictatorship of the proletariat and terror,
is without a doubt a fruitful concept. It is not limited to the Bolsheviks, but
is also found in modern Syndicalism and in other political theories in Germany
and other States.
Its failure lies
in the overestimation of the significance of economics. A people cannot
establish their political organization on the basis of economics alone. It is
also too fully subject to industrialization.
thesis contains additional chapters (not included here) that describe in detail
how Italian fascism and Russian Bolshevism succeeded in taking over the reins
of power step by gradual step.
system inevitably leads to splintering, so that, at the time of this thesis, in
the last election in Germany, thirty-one parties had representation in
parliament; there could be no common agreement among the splintered parties.
are key contradictions in the present form of representation. The
representative is supposed to represent the people; in fact, he becomes a
representative of a party, and subject to the party organization. The
representative is presumed to be an independent figure, following his own
judgment; in fact, he is subject to his party and to the rules of parliament,
in which, very often he cannot even open his mouth. He is supposed to be
efficient, knowledgeable, and honest, but the parliamentary world has fallen in
esteem, and is a matter of mediocrity.
thesis continues with a discussion of various attempts at reforming the system
and adopting methods of direct democracy by the initiative process, which had
become part of American polity by then, and by stating the value of more direct
voter choice of the representatives, as in the British system. The ideas of
plebiscites and referendum return rule to the people, not the party machinery.
concludes his thesis:
No sooner has the
parliamentary system become the key form of political organization than it has
given rise to a powerful reaction against it. On the one side, the labor
organizations bend parliament to their will; on the other, the corporations
back nationalist movements, such as Awakened Hungary, fascism, Orjuna in
Yugoslavia, and the Ku Klux Klan in America, which press on parliament. In
cases, as in Italy and Russia, it has been taken over completely.
envisages vital reforms being enacted, and the formation of a three-level
parliament: an economic parliament, a cultural parliament, and a political
parliament to bring together the interests of the various districts of the
state and to interact with other nations. This would be a three-fold basis for
an all-encompassing parliament that could fully address all needs of society.
he concludes, it is to be presumed that the parliamentary system of necessity
has to survive, as it is still the one essential and necessary form of a
structured society. This makes the need for reform even more vital to prevent
the demise of parliamentary democracy.